E3 2018: Hands-On with Little Dragon Cafe

I love laid-back video games. Sure, your big and bombastic AAA games are fun too, where you’re saving the world from some ancient evil or fighting off a nefarious corporation. But sometimes I like to sit down with something that’s not quite so crazy; where the stakes aren’t world-ending and the gameplay isn’t all in-your-face from the moment you hit “new game.” Little Dragon Cafe looks to be exactly that.

Directed by the mind behind the Harvest Moon games, Yasuhiro Wada, Little Dragon Cafe certainly follows in those games footsteps. The story follows two children who live with their mother in a cafe. When she becomes ill and falls into a coma, they meet a strange man who tells them that she has dragon’s blood and it is causing her affliction. To save her, they must raise a baby dragon while still keeping the cafe running.

From there, the gameplay is a mixture of familiar elements. Players must gather ingredients for the cafe from areas outside, whether that’s planting things in the garden or adventuring out a little farther for meat and more exotic things. Cooking is performed with a simple rhythm-like mini-game where the player’s performance and ingredients can affect the outcome of the dish. And of course running the shop and raising the dragon play a part in the gameplay as well.

I played the first half an hour of the game and it seemed to be hitting all the right notes for a good laid-back game. My one fear was that some aspects might become tedious: such as gathering or making the same dish. But watching someone else play from a save further into the game, Dragon Cafe has done a good job of streamlining older gameplay as newer things become available. For example, once you’ve made a dish, you can remake the same one without having to replay the minigame if you want.

The story nature of the two children trying to cure their mother also helps give it some agency. While overall storytelling style is very relaxed, having something pushing the player forward was something Wada-san was very interested in adding to the Harvest Moon style of gameplay. That way players who find the open-ended type of gameplay aimless have something to keep them on track as they progress.

The gameplay is enhanced by a very nice graphic style that reminds me a lot of Valkyria Chronicles in that the art mimics that of a book. In this case, the art is aiming for more of a story-book feel, like what one might read to a child. It works very well in combination with the gameplay and overall feel of the game.

Little Dragon Cafe isn’t aiming for the normal AAA market but rather looks to be perfect for the young or young-at-heart. This early build was already very good at nailing that laid-back style of gaming that I like to fill my time sometimes. The kind of game that seems like it’ll always have me smiling. I enjoyed it enough to give it one of my awards for best of E3 2018 because I think Little Dragon Cafe will appeal to a lot of gamers who are looking for a game they can unwind with.

Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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